Hello, friends! Our books today are Lola Goes To School and Chester Learns To Swim, both from the Absurdimals series, written by Gwendolyn Javor and illustrated by Melissa Aker Spears.
In Lola, a young Belephant – half bunny, half elephant, and the first of her kind – prepares for the first day of school. As she is introduced to the class, she notices other kids staring, but tries to shrug it off. At lunch, however, she tries to sit with some elephants and is rudely rejected, one claiming that she’s not a “real” elephant. Distraught, Lola flees and runs into her principal, who encourages her to be proud of who she is, noting that others are often afraid of what’s new. Lola takes his advice to heart, and the next time she has a run-in with bullies, she knows just what to say. In Chester, one of Lola’s new friends, a “dock” (half dog, half duck) is worried about an upcoming race. To his shame, he has a fear of swimming, and faces pressure from teammates who believe this will cost them the race. Approaching his friends – each with their own special talent – he attempts to overcome his fear with their advice, but to no avail. But on the day of the big race, he realizes that the key to finding his courage was within him all along.
While the books’ concept is solid, they vary in quality, and both stories feel rushed. Lola is stronger overall: analogies for being mixed-race yet not feeling accepted by either, how attitudes about race are constantly changing (hopefully for the better), and not allowing oneself to be defined by stereotypes are well done. Chester, however, falls a bit flat. The title is misleading; Chester never “learns” to swim, he finds the courage to, so those looking for a more instructional book may be disappointed. The plot point of “meet a friend, this is their talent, it doesn’t work” repeats a few too many times, becoming redundant by the end. Chester’s moment of self-assuredness is nicely triumphant, but I would have loved to see his teammates apologize for their behavior. The cute and creative art adds some charm, the lengths are good, and JJ enjoyed them. A strong start yet a middling sequel to this series, but Baby Bookworm approved.
(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)